Andres Iniesta: How to Boss the Midfield

Andres Iniesta talks to FOURFOURTWO PERFORMANCE on picking the right pass and bamboozling the opponent, here are his six steps to success.

Receiving a pass

Before I receive the ball, I quickly look to see which players I can give it to. Always be aware of who is around you: if you feel them closing down, take a touch to move the ball away from them. Try and put yourself in space to get the pass: the more space you have, the more time you have to think. And when you get the ball, don’t move it towards the opponent. That said, sometimes I’m happy to run at a player and just hold the ball in front of him. That way I’ve moved the team forward.

‘Here they make you think from day one. The first thing you do when you join this club is rondo (the passing drill with one player trying to win the ball back and three or four players passing one-touch between themselves). It’s think, think, think, and it teaches you the responsibility of keeping the ball and the shame of losing it.

Playing the pass

Every pass is important. A bad pass loses possession and puts the team under pressure. Short passes build momentum and if you have the ball then the opponents can’t do anything. Know the time to make a killer pass. If you need a goal, search for the space to make the pass. If you’re protecting a lead, keep possession and play safer. Because we have played together for a long time to a certain system, everyone knows where to move. That makes my job easier, knowing where Xavi or Leo [Messi] will be.

For Xavi it starts in the stands with the difference between English and Spanish football culture. ‘You are a nation of warriors,’ he says. ‘If I go to Liverpool’s ground and someone puts the ball into the area and Carragher hammers it out of play then the fans applaud. In the Nou Camp you would never be applauded for that. ‘It’s a different culture that values different things. Here if they see you are afraid when you are in possession then you get whistled. It’s the world in reverse. Thinking on your feet

If you think before your opponent where the ball is going to go then you have an advantage. If you stay with the ball at your feet and think about what to do, you are going to lose the ball. The best players are the quickest thinkers. Where is my team-mate going to run to? Will he stay onside? Which one has space? Which one is looking for the ball? How do they like the ball – to their feet or in front? You can be the best passer in the world, but without your team-mates being in the right position, it’s no good.

‘You lift your head before you receive the ball, you look to see if you are in space, and who else is in space, and you play the ball first time. Modern football is so quick that two touches means too slow.’

Drawing a foul

Make the opponent think that you are going one way, then go the other. Confuse him. And when your opponent has the ball, close him down quickly. Put him under pressure before he’s even had time to think about an attack. Another thing: if the attack has gone, don’t waste energy playing catch-up. You can be as much use to the team as a defender if the ball comes back. Or you can move up more slowly and still be in a position to shoot if the ball comes back to you.

‘You spot a youngster who can lift his head and play a first-time pass and you think, “He’s worth something, let’s have him come and train with us”.’

Dealing with a giant

If I play against a big player, I play the ball quickly on the ground. Playing a quick one-two is also very effective as bigger players are slower to react and turn. I also keep a distance from them so that I can turn quickly and we don’t find ourselves going for the same ball. I only weigh 63 kilos so I don’t have weight to throw around. If you can get the ball past them a few times using a one-two they will be more reluctant to rush in and tackle, so you have more space to play. Barça is a small team, so we use our height well. It’s good for me to take corners, not just because I’m unlikely to win the ball in the air.

‘From the age of 10, they make you think of the shame of losing the ball’

Shooting from distance

I’m not a natural scorer, but if I see an opening, I’ll shoot. I shoot if I think I can score and I’ll aim for the part of the goal that’s most difficult for the goalkeeper. That’s what I did in the World Cup final – the corner near the post. And against Chelsea too [Champions League semi-final in 2009], because I saw a space through a crowd of players. Opposition players in front make it more complicated – for me but also for the goalkeeper – because they can’t see properly. And if there’s someone in a better position, I’ll pass. So you need to know who is around you all the time and where they are.


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Coach Talk

Interview with Sergi Angulo Lerin FM Sport Etudes Marseille By Mark O’Sullivan

I met Sergi Angulo Lerin at the Espanyol Academy in October 2012. We spent a lot of time discussing football and coaching methods over a series of  lunches and of course Barcelona / Espanyol academy games. Sergi is hired by  the prestigious FN Sport Etudes French Academy as coordinator and coach of the football section in Sainte Tulle (Marseille). This academy has 5 schools in France, one in England and one in USA. Sergi  monitors players in the south of Fance for Barcelona and RCD Esoanyol and has been involved with the International Division of the In-School Youth Football  club , a program that brings the advanced concepts of Spanish football  around the world.

Before Christmas I managed to catch up with Sergi for a quick Q and A. The Interview is printed in both English and Spanish.

A big  thank you  to Sergi for taking the time to answer my questions

What is FM? 

SERGI : FM Sport Études is a training school for football players from all over the world. In all our education centers players study, live and train every day to improve not only their  football skills, but also their general education and values of life.
We have five schools in France (our head office is located in Paris), one in England and one in the United States.

The players who study in our schools also take part in competitions with their own teams on weekends; it is important not to forget that competition is crucial for their evolution. Besides football, at our schools there are students who train in other sports such as Tennis, Basketball, Golf or horse riding.

¿Qué es el FM?

1- FM Sport études, es una escuela de formación de jugadores, donde tenemos jugadores de todo el mundo internados en nuestros centros. Ahí los jugadores estudian, comen y entrenan cada día, para perfeccionar su nivel futbolístico, sin olvidar los estudios y los valores fundamentales de la vida.

Tenemos 5 escuelas en todo Francia, 1 en Inglaterra y 1 en Estados unidos, donde la central es la que se encuentra en Paris. Estos jugadores los fines de semana juegan con sus equipos correspondientes para no olvidar la competición que es fundamental.

A parte de futbol en la escuela hay alumnos que realizan los mismo contenidos con diferentes deportes; Tenis, Básquet, Equitación y Golf

Can you describe your work at FM?

SERGI: In FM Sport Études I am responsible for the school football in Marseille. At the same time I also coach football players who are resident there. That is to say, every day I train them for three hours, I have to organize friendly matches, I have to implement a unique methodology for all players and coordinate with their  clubs, etc.

¿Puede describir su trabajo en FM?

2- En FM Sport études, yo soy el responsable del fútbol en la escuela de Marseille. A la vez también soy el entrenador de los jugadores residentes aquí. Es decir, cada día realizamos 3 horas de entrenamiento con los jugadores, se deben encontrar partidos amistosos, realizar una metodología para el centro, coordinar con los clubs en los que juegan, etc.

Is there a difference in coaching philosophy between Spain and France?

SERGI: I think there are a lot of differences between the French and the Spanish coaches.The philosophy of the game is totally different between the two countries. In Spain, game philosophy is based in a collective concept, playing with two touches max., build the attack through the best pass, thinking about making the best decisions for the group, beginning the attack from the back, etc.. On the other side, French philosophy is based in an individual game, where much of the game is the dribble. It is a much more direct game. They often do not build the attack from the back, they rely on the wingers to dribble past their opponent and cross the ball into  to the penalty area. Hence, the training of a French or Spanish coach is totally different. The French coach concentrates  more on physical strength, speed, skill and dribbling, while the Spanish coach works harder on  the pass control, real-game situations, decision-making exercises, and so on. That’s why there’s a big difference between Spanish and French players: the French are all skill and speed, whereas the Spanish are good at teamwork and very good  at “reading” the game.

¿Hay alguna diferencia en la filosofía como entrenador entre España y Francia?

3- Si creo que hay muchas diferencias entre el entrenador Francés y el entrenador Español.

La filosofía de juego es totalmente diferente entre ambos países.

Es el futbol español, la filosofía es de un juego colectivo, jugar a dos contactos de balón, de progresar mediante el pase, de pensar en tomar la mejor decisión para el colectivo, salir con el balón controlado desde atrás, etc.

En cambio la filosofía francesas, es más un juego individual, donde la gran parte de juego es el dribling, es un juego mucho más directo, no suelen salir con el balón controlado desde atrás y donde basan todo su potencial en los extremos y su habilidad para regatear-se al defensor y centrar.

De ahí que el entrenamiento de un entrenador francés o un español es totalmente diferente, el francés trabaja mucho el físico, la velocidad, la habilidad y el dribling, mientras que el entrenador español trabaja mucho más el pase control, situaciones de juego real, ejercicios donde se deban tomar decisiones, etc.

Es por eso que hay una gran diferencia entre los jugadores españoles y franceses, los franceses son todo habilidad, desequilibrio y velocidad, en cuanto a los españoles, son más de leer el juego, de jugar con los compañeros.

You are a scout in the south of France for a team in Barcelona. What type of player are you looking for?

SERGI: Obviously, first of all we want to check out as many players as we can from all over the world , so  we can have a wide range of options. We look in France for players who are skilled enough to play in Spain. That is to say, we would never recommend a good fullback who is not skilled enough to play the ball and dominate the short pass, if these characteristics are what our team needs… As said before, the main skills of most of the French players are their speed, their physical strength and their ability to unbalance an opponent. This type of player may not be found in Spain or be better than those of Spain.

Usted es un ojeador en el sur de Francia para un equipo de Barcelona. ¿Qué tipo de jugador estás buscando?

4- Primeramente y como es lógico queremos tener controlados todos el máximo de jugadores que hay en el mundo, para en el momento de realizar un fichaje tener un amplio abanico de opciones.

En Francia se buscan jugadores validos para jugar en España, es decir, no recomendaremos un central que defensivamente es muy bueno pero después no es capaz de sacarte el balón desde atrás, si tu equipo necesita eso…

Mayoritariamente y como he dicho anteriormente sus mejores características son el desequilibrio, la velocidad, el físico, etc. En consecuencia puede hacer falta un jugador así en el equipo y que en España no este, o sean mejores aquí….de ahí que como mayor número de jugadores tengas controlados, después más opciones tienes para elegir.

What is your opinion on isolated technique training? Do you think that technique training must be more like the game so that it also develops player intelligence?

SERGI : Obviously I am in favor of making all exercises holistically. That is to say, to train all skills in the same exercise, but of course, always focusing on that skill which you really want to improve. If you want to improve everything at once you may end not improving anything. But in my opinion, all exercises should serve to train all football skills. However, in the game there is no analytical technique situation because there are factors such as emotional, psychological, tactical, opponents, etc. The player has to get used to all these factors, otherwise, despite his good skills and technique, he does not know how to read the game and choose the best option, it is useless. So my advice is to train always taking into account all situations of a real game, but focusing on the goal of what to improve . I think the analytical exercises can be accommodated at an early age of the player, to have a good technique gesture and gain confidence.

¿Cuál es su opinión sobre el entrenamiento analítico? ¿Cree que la mejora de la técnica debe ser entrenada mejor como una situación de juego donde también desarrolla la inteligencia jugador?

Obviamente soy partidario de realizar todos los ejercicio de forma holística, es decir, entrenar todos los aspectos en un mismo ejercicio, eso sí, siempre poniendo el acento en uno, que es el que realmente quieres mejorar. Si quieres mejorarlo todo a la vez acabas por no mejorar nada, pero si es cierto, que los ejercicios deben tener todos los factores del futbol.

Después en el partido no hay ninguna situación técnica analítica, ya que hay factores socios afectivos, psicológicos, tácticos, rivales etc. Y el jugador debe estar acostumbrado a todos estos aspectos, sino, por muy buena técnica que tenga, si después no sabe interpretar el juego y no escoger la mejor opción…no sirve para nada.

Así que mi consejo es realizar siempre ejercicios donde intervengan todos los factores reales de un partido, pero centrarse en un objetivo a mejorar e incidir sobre él.

Creo que los ejercicios analíticos pueden tener cabida en edades tempranas del jugador, para tener una buena técnica gestual y coger confianza.

Content by Mark O’Sullivan, UEFA B (In training for A) Qualified coach in Sweden and founder of footblogball


You can follow Mark on twitter @markstkhlm

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Irish Grassroots Football

Indiscutibles Reyes Del Mundo

Living in Portugal for many years, going to Spain was always something to look forward to. At least once every summer we would head off by car across the Portuguese Spanish boarder destination Badajoz. Which is situated close to the Portuguese border along the Madrid/Lisbon railway line. It over looks the river Guadiana and the town is a fortress.

Pop Rocks in Badajoz

As you can imagine going from one country to another in a day was a great adventure for any young lad; After Badajoz had different sweets to Portugal and it was here that I first encounter the Peta Zetas popping sweets or Pop Rocks as they are known in English. Even back then I had a great admiration for Spain, after all my Grandmother was Spanish and we accompanied her on so many of these trips.

Obviously growing up in a fanatical fútbol country like Portugal you were exposed not just to Portuguese soccer but also to Spanish and if Portugal wasn’t on the TV then Spain was, so you always had someone to support and unlike the English/Irish situation, I actually supported Spain as if they were my nation but only when Portugal and Ireland weren’t playing.

So for me Spain have always been that dominant power (over Portugal and Ireland) in world football and it seems today is no different, only history tells us otherwise.

The Underachievers

Before 2008, Spain was one of those national teams labelled as a “tournament underachiever”, meaning they often failed to deliver after so much promise. They hadn’t won a tournament since Euro 1964 and a series of near-misses and disappointing results finally came to an end in Euro 2008. It’s not that the Spanish have lacked quality, but their star players often failed to reproduce their club form on the international stage.

Now with dominance at all ages and lets look back at this year alone in world Futbol, Barcelona conquers of Europe made very little of the best team in UK, which will go down in history as one of the best displays of Tiki-Taka football the world has witnessed. Spain in both men and ladies soccer have been sweeping nations aside like no other and as we know, only the other day the 4 time winners (u19s) reached yet another final in a convincing display of brilliance as they demolished a very good Irish side 5-0.

Ruling the World

In June they won the u21’s in Denmark, yesterday the Spanish u17s Ladies beat the French 1-0 to take the u17s crown, the u20s beat Costa Rica 4-1 in their opening game of the World Cup in Colombia and today the u19s play the Czech Republic for yet another title.

Having watched Spain alot this year, I cant see the dominance coming to an end anytime soon, and one would think that with an ageing Spanish National side, this could be end to an era, how wrong we are. Take for instance FCBarcelona Academia they have 6-7 outstanding talents at every age group, you only have to take a look at today’s u19s crop of Spanish talent to see how superior they actually are and don’t forget they also have a team at the u20’s world cup in Colombia. So not counting the Senior team they have at least 50 world class players currently playing in top competitions around the world. (Not forgetting the likes of Thiago Alcantara 20, Andreu Fontas 21, Jeffren 23 all currently with the FCB first team squad and that’s only the Barca players).

So the premier league is the best league in the world?, funny how the likes of Fabregas, David Villa, Reina, Torres can’t even get into the National team yet the we consider the English league to be better!!!

To top that all off, every single nation is now trying to play Tiki-Taka football, from young kids right up to senior level. Everyone wants to be Spain, but success as they are now experiencing  does not  come over night, it started many many years ago influencing coaches to nurture the same way, they had a philosophy, they played to their strengths and they stuck to it but it took someone to bring it to the forefront and after the failure to reach the group stages at Euro 2004, Spain changed manager, with the man who ingrained the style of play we are familiar with today, Luis Aragones, being installed at the helm.

The rise to greatness started slowly, with a disappointing crash in the 2006 World Cup, reaching only the last 16 inspired Aragones to change mentality, knowing that the team would not be able to physically, with strength, out wit their opponents, having more technically talented players like young and upcoming Cesc Fabregas, only 19 at the time, Sergio Ramos, 20 and Andres Iniesta, 22, he adapted the “tika-taka” approach, and made the team play to their strengths, with the ball and their feet, used by the Barcelona team at the time, having been implemented by Johann Cruyff when he was in control of FCB between 1988 and 1996. Cruyff was part of the 70’s Ajax team that played ‘total football’, so maybe, thanks to him, we enjoy today’s Spanish and Barcelona play.

They have been virtually untouchable and unstoppable for the past three and a half years since winning Euro 2008, covering any challenger in a blanket of supremacy. Undisputed kings, rois incontestes, they are, no doubt, the Greatest National Football Team of our modern footballing era and long may it last!

So what for Ireland?,

well if you have the same people doing the same thing then that’s what you get “If you do what you have always done, you will get what you always got.”and that’s ok if what your getting is success at all levels. I suppose for us a a nation maybe we need to decide what sports we want to be successful at?  We don’t do to bad considering we have Rugby, GAA and Soccer all competing for the top players, but I firmly believe that with the right structures and ideas about how we decide to PLAY feeding down to the youngest ages, we could do so much better.

Our game needs a complete overall and that includes age appropriate games, pitches, size of goals, size of balls. Yesterday I watched two very good footballing Dublin teams play (age 2000s) and both the goal keepers had difficulties kicking past 20 yards for goal kicks, which meant the only time the ball reached the other half was when the keepers kicked from their hands or when played out from the back with no pressure.

Bring on the Horst

Next month Horst Wein is back in town and them more I indulge into his mini soccer 3v3 games of which he has 21 different variations for age 7-9s the more I know we have it all wrong. We can do no worse then approve the methods of Horst. His Spanish version of Developing Youth Football Players is the official textbook of the Spanish Football Federation and is in its 5th printing addition. It was commissioned by Angel Maria Villar Llona, the President of the Spanish Football Federation (since 1988), he has been vice president to Sepp Blatter on 2 occasions. He has also served as vice president of UEFA.

If “Imitation is at least 50 percent of the creative process” then copying 100% of what SPAIN are doing and adding 50% of our own philosophy should bring us to near 100% Irish Youth Development process..